Eurocrat's Wake-Up Call on Demography

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
Vice President for Communications
PRI Weekly Briefing
12 August 2005
Vol. 7 / No. 31
Reproduced with Permission

More United Nations and European Union apparatchiks continue to stumble upon the obvious: Rapidly dropping birthrates combined with greater longetivity of the aged will soon result in major social and economic crunches in many societies around the world, particularly in Europe. There will simply not be enough workers to support all these older people and, in the case of many EU nations, there won't even be enough people to populate the countryside without massive increases in already sky-high immigration rates. Though these international bureaucrats refrain from explicitly criticizing population control, contraception, abortion rights, and most especially feminism-sacrosanct dogmas handed down by the small-g god of political correctness - they discuss the need for dealing with the consequences of these continuing trends of the 1960s.

Eurocrat Vladimír Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, is among those who are beginning to talk of the demographic changes that will affect the EU over the next five to 45 years. He emphasizes that if Europe wants to keep its much-beloved social model - the one in which citizens receive cradle-to-grave protection from massive welfare states - and continued prosperity, big changes have to be made. As the Italian saying goes, "If things are to stay the same, they must change." Spidla's bureau within the EU's bureaucratic empire is due to issue a white paper on this and other subjects by the end of the year, after months of debate over how to address demographic and other problems in labor and social affairs.

Spidla began his July 18 speech to the International Population Conference in Tours by directly contradicting the first principle of both population control and radical environmentalism. "Demographic decline is never a good thing," he asserted (was anyone from Negative Population Growth in attendance?). "I believe these words reflect the message of Alfred Sauvy, the founder of INED, the organisers of this conference, but also the founder of the pro-natalist, pro-family policy which has enabled France to avoid the inevitability of demographic decline. Population decline is a reality in Europe, already affecting more than a fifth of our regions."

He didn't mention it, but if the EU continues its expansion eastward, the addition of more formerly Communist Eastern European countries will drag Europe's demographics down even further. In fact, though the EU's population continues to expand, that of Europe as a whole (including Russia, according to the UN Population Division's definition of Europe) is already shrinking.

Spidla relies on projections that we at PRI think are overly optimistic - and how can France, with a fertility rate of only 1.8 despite high immigration, avoid demographic decline when replacement rate is 2.1? - but he points to the same ominous trends. Even assuming large-scale immigration continues, the numbers look bad. "By the year 2050, the European Union could have lost almost 7 million inhabitants and 55 million persons of working age," Spidla said. "Of the most densely-populated countries, Poland, Germany and Italy look set to lose almost 10% of their populations, Spain could remain stable, thanks to substantial immigration, and only the United Kingdom and France look likely to see population growth."

But we don't have to wait until 2050 for big declines. One generation, 25 years, will do. Even in countries will overall population growth, rapid aging will transform large proportions of their populations from overall producers of wealth into overall consumers of it. "By 2030, the working-age population will most likely have fallen by 21 million," noted Spidla . "We will have lost 20 million young people, while the number of over-65s will have risen by more than 39 million, and the number of over-80s will have almost doubled."

Spidla referenced a report issued last year by former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, who said that Europe's already anemic annual growth potential of 2% could drop by one-quarter, to 1.5%, by 2015 because of demographic decline.

Spidla explicitly calls for ways to "encourage the birthrate," and emphasizes that a comprehensive approach, not just the cash baby bonuses offered with little effect by some countries, must be employed. Unfortunately, Spidla argues that the same policies that have led to the problem in the first place - day care, married women in the workplace and out of the home, more social engineering pushes for "gender equality" - be expanded in order to solve it. Only the true believers of the left would argue that the very same things that have helped kill fertility and destroy families can be ratcheted up to reverse these trends. "Europe will have to 'move into top gear' by encouraging women and men to work and consolidating the position of children in society," he said. "We must respond to the demographic challenge by giving a new dimension to the policy of equality between women and men and by doing more to encourage the sharing of family and domestic responsibilities."

At a speech in Brussels to a conference on demographic change, July 11, Spidla said, "Europe is the first region in the world to experience three changes at the same time: persistence of a low fertility rate, an increase in life expectancy allowing a large number of Europeans to reach an advanced age, and finally the growing old of 'baby boomers,' who are now becoming 'older workers' or pensioners."

Spidla's EU department issued a green paper on March 15 that laid out the general parameters of the demographic debate. "To preserve our prosperity and solidarity we need to step up our efforts to adapt to the economic and social changes which come from globalisation and the ageing of our populations. . .," says the green paper. "Today, there are four people of working age for every person over 65. But in 2050, this ratio will have dropped to two to one. Demographic ageing could result in fewer people entering the labour market and more older people relying on social protection systems such as pensions and healthcare. If policies are not changed, potential economic growth could halve over the coming decades to reach just over 1% per year."

Spidla points out that Europe, with its high unemployment rates for young people and low labor force participation rates for older people, still has a lot of ways to increase the numbers of those working. And he wants to increase the proportion of women working, too, which will further depress birthrates. European women's labor force participation rate has been going up, contributing to the very problem he is highlighting. "The EU is well on track to achieve its target for women's participation in the labour market," says the green paper. "The female employment rate rose by 3.2 percentage points between 1999 and 2003, to 56.1 % in EU15, close to the so-called 'Lisbon' target of 57% by 2005."

The green paper fails to mention the need to enable women to stay home if they would like to, and how many of those who work do so because of economic pressures. Spidla didn't mention that need in his two big July speeches, either.

Yet Spidla and the EU Commission's employment department at least recognize the problem. When his white paper comes out later this year, the battle will begin to implement EU-wide policies to deal with demographic decline. Eurocrat meddling has already done great damage to European families and fertility rates in the past, not to mention other areas of Europeans' lives. We'll see what it does for the demographic future.